The Olympics: Day 15

Canoe Sprint K1 200m:  Last night finished on a bitter note.  Lutalo Muhammad losing the taekwondo final in the last second sucked.  It should have been GB’s 25th gold.  It was in the bag and we got pick pocketed.  Ah well, shrug shoulders, and on to the next one.  11 hours of hurt later we had our 25th gold.  The K1 200m sprint is like the 100m in athletics.  It’s a dash for the line, so getting a good start is vital.  So, naturally, GB’s Liam Heath, the hot favourite, didn’t.  Maybe he was in a generous mood, or he fancied a bit of competition, or he was chanelling his inner Usain Bolt, because he allowed his training mate, Maxime Beaumont of France, to get quite a head start.  After yesterday, the nerves were a little too shredded to enjoy any dramatic comebacks.  It would have been far more preferable if he had simply dominated from the start and powered his way to victory.  But this is GB we are talking about.  Do we do anything without last second nail biting gut wrenching drama?  Er, no.  It would have to be a last second nail biting gun wrenching comeback.  Thankfully, Liam had timed it beautifully and, little by little, he inched past his training partner and got his kayak’s nose in front just in time for the finishing line.  Beautiful!  The power and the glory belonged to Team GB.

Diving:  Did I mention that Team GB don’t make life easy for themselves?  After yesterday’s stupendous qualification round from Tom Daley, great things were expected from British diving’s poster boy.  Forget great.  How about just qualifying for the final?  Easy enough for a former world champion and London 2012 bronze medallist and top qualifier, right?  Yes, you know where I am going.  For some inexplicable reason, perhaps an inevitable come down from yesterday, Tom was looking nervous and struggling with his take off and entry.  By the end of round 4, he was in last place.

Only the top 12 would qualify for tonight’s final.  Tom had to get a move on.  Only two more rounds to salvage his Olympics.  It was panic time.  I had no more nails to chomp on.  All chewed out, Tom.  This would be such a waste if he couldn’t make it, because he would be one of the favourites for a medal in the final.  But he had to get there first!  He needed to dive the two best dives of his life.  The pressure was on.  But Tom’s a champion.  He could do it.  I hope.  Totally bitten nails being gnawed like a nerve-frazzled dog on a bone.  Come on Tom.  Round 5 – a reverse three and half, and 91 points.  Better, better, moved up to 15.  But he still had 18 points to make up with his final dive.  Cripes, this was going to be close.  Please don’t have left it too late.  We lost out right at the end yesterday, so we were owed.  Calling it in, now.  Heart pounding.  Needed a few others to belly flop, but they weren’t playing ball.  Tom would need one of the best dives of his life and to pray.  100+ needed.  Oh god.  A monster dive required.  Here we go.  Fingers crossed.  Hands clasped in prayer.  Please let it be.  Please.  Come on Tom.  He needed 10s.  Argh.  Never going to happen.  Bad, bad dive.  Gone.  He’d left his best in the qualification.  Peaked too early.  From first to last in the space of a day.  Sport – it breaks your heart too many times.

Triathlon:  It’s a bittersweet symphony, this sporting life.  You see your team mate and best friend win a bronze and you think, great for her.  Only, she’s just beaten you to it.  Ah.  Sorry, mate.  An internecine GB fight for bronze is the same for a fan – glad that we are guaranteed a medal, but frustrated that it will come at the expense of another GB athlete.  To Vicky Holland the medal; for Non Stanford, reflections on what might have been.  Winners and losers, but fighters all.

Boxing: We were up, we were down.  Then, we were up and down.  We were doing the sporting hokey cokey.  Which way would Nicola Adams take us?  Straight to the gold, we hoped.  She was the defending Olympic champion; she was the world champion, she had beaten her French opponent the four times they had met.  She was as close to a shoe in as it was possible to be.  But boxing has a very dodgy judging system, and we were still reeling from the shock of Tom Daley’s diving disaster.  Nic wasn’t about to join him.  Two rounds gone, two rounds won.  Unanimously.  Keep it going, girl.  Keep it going.  Round 3 – continuing to land the punches, but getting hit too.  Lost the round.  Come on Nic.  The final round now.  Make it the best round of your life.  Ooh, this was going to be close.  They were both going at it.  Who would get their hand raised?  Oh, let it be the lady in red.  Yes!  Yes!  It was.  She had done it!  The flyweight had soared to the Olympic gold.  We were high, high, high.

GB Medal Watch:  We were back to doing the hokey cokey again.  After the high of Nic’s gold, it started petering out a little bit.  No repeat of Lutalo Muhammad’s heroics in the taekwando with world champion Bianca Walkden and Mahama Cho going out in the semi finals in two very close matches.  Both have a chance of winning bronze medals though, in the repechage.  In modern pentathlon, Joe Choong was in second place going into the final shoot and run event, and a medal seemed likely, but then he had a complete brain freeze during the shooting section and any hope of a medal was shot (geddit?).  Meanwhile, in the diving, the Chinese were doing what they do best – getting perfect 10s and winning golds.  At least Chen Aisen was.  His compatriot was having a very blah competition and could only finish 6th.  One medal less for China then – we’ll take it.  I won’t mention (though I just did) that Walkden lost to a Chinese girl, so that’s them guaranteed another medal.  Let’s hope she doesn’t win the gold, eh?  I know, I know.  If someone had told me before the start of the games that we would be battling in the medals table with China for second place, I would have thought they were more deluded than most Britain’s Got Talent contestants.  Yet, here we are.  It’s like a midget taking on Mike Tyson and knocking him down.  He may get up and go on to win the match, but we can always say we knocked down Mike Tyson.

ps.  The Chinese taekwando lass, Shuyin Zheng, did indeed win the gold, but Bianca Walkden took the bronze.  Alas, Mahama Cho couldn’t join her, losing by a point to a Brazilian, Maicon Siqueira, but at least the home fans were happy.  Ultimately, both Walkden and Cho had lost out on gold to the eventual winners, so no shame to lose to the best.

Football:  This is another sport that I don’t think should be in the Olympics (except for the women), though I might have changed my mind if Team GB had sent a team and won.  The irony is not lost on me that the other two sports I don’t believe should be in the Olympics, tennis and golf, were both won by Brits.  Equally ironic is the fact that football is the only sport that most, if not all, Brazilians are interested in.  The men’s final also offered the Brazilian team an opportunity for redemption.  They were playing Germany in the final.  The last time Brazil played Germany in Brazil they got annihilated 7-1 in the semi final of the 2014 World Cup.  For a country where football is a religion, it was a national embarrassment.  Brazil is still traumatised by the humiliating memories.  Only a win against Germany, in a final, in the Maracana, would offer any kind of consolation.  Ok, it wasn’t the World Cup, but it was next best thing.  Woe betide the Brazilian players if they walked off the pitch without a gold medal round their neck.

The Maracana was heaving and rocking with expectant fans.  But they were nearly stunned into silence when Germany hit the bar in the 11th minute.  It was time for Brazil’s star man to ignite the crowd.  Neymar, captain, talisman, hero, had to withstand a ton of flak by dissatisfied fans at the start of the tournament, so it was poetic that the reinstated national darling should be the one to give Brazil the lead, with an excellent 25 yard free kick.  But Germany are the ultimate spoil sports.  They love sticking it to the hosts (Euro 96 anyone?).  Twice more they hit the woodwork, though somehow Brazil survived until half time.  Maybe the gods were with them.  Maybe not.  Germany were piling on the pressure in the second half and eventually it told, with skipper Max Meyer slotting in Jeremy Toljan’s cut back to level it at 1-1.  That was the end of the goal scoring in normal time.  And extra time.  Penalties beckoned.  Uh oh.  Penalties against Germany?  Good luck, Brazil!

Could Brazil somehow find a way to triumph against the penalty shootout masters and send the nation into ecstasy?  I am not sure the Brazilians could cope with losing to Germany at home again.  All of Brazil’s hopes and dreams lay with one man and a ball and another man and two gloves.  Both teams had brought their shooting boots.  The score was 4-4.  Germany had won the toss so would be first to take the fifth kick.  Come on Germany, miss it.  Yes!!  Saved!  If Brazil scored next, they would be the Olympic champions.  Who would be stepping up to take it?  You couldn’t write this!  The Brazilians must have splashed the cash and hired the most expensive, famous, traditional, sentimental Hollywood scriptwriter.  How else to explain it?  It was Neymar!  The Brazilian god.  The country’s sweetheart.  Last up for Brazil.  The final penalty kick to win it.  Come on!  Do it!  Yes!  The Maracana exploded in delight!  The chosen one had become the golden one.  The darling of Brazil had sent his country into delirium.  Where were the Germans?  But frankly, who cared?!  Two years of hurt were forgotten.  The pain was assuaged at last.  They were dancing, they were singing, they were crying.  Maybe there was someone thinking: why wasn’t this the World Cup final of 2014?  What a final that would have been.  But at least they had this moment.  For Brazil, the Olympics had finally begun.  On the second last day.

Athletics:  From triple triple to double double.  No it’s not figure skating, or a generous local tipple.  It’s multiple Olympic gold medal winning.  First Usain did the triple triple.  3 Olympics, 3 golds.  Now, Mo was going for the double double.  2 Olympics, 2 golds.  They stood at opposite ends of the athletics spectrum; legendary bookends of their sport.  Usain had run the shortest events in the stadium; Mo would be running the longest.  But like Usain Bolt, Mo Farah would have to do it the hard way if he wanted to cement his place in history.  His rivals would not make it easy for him.  So long as they didn’t trip him up, eh?  Mo had the fastest kick in long distance running, a devastating sting in the tail, but it was going to be a gritty, grimacing, lactic acid burning charge for the line and sporting immortality.

Mo started the race at the back.  Sensible idea.  Stay away from everyone; less chance of any unfortunate, ahem, ‘incidents’.  Not for too long though, as he did have to show his face; let his rivals know he was there, prowling.  By half way, he was more than prowling; he was gliding to the front, trying to control the race.  No counting chickens.  Remember what happened in the Taekwando yesterday?  Mo was running this race on his terms, slowing it down.  It was getting tense even though there was nothing to get tense about – yet.  The nerves were jangling, even though there was nothing to panic about – yet.  In Mo we trust.  We hope.  He had that kick, remember?  Sounded silly to say, but stay on your feet.  Bloody hell, he wasn’t a defender slide tackling.  Bell.  Final lap.  Accelerating round the bend.  The final 200m.  Chelimo chasing.  Looking for all the world like he was going to catch him, but no one was going to beat Mo Farah in a sprint for the line!   Mo had done it!  He had made history!  The first man to do the 5,000m and 10,000m double since the great Lasse Viren in 1972 and 1976.  How fitting that with Mo’s gold medal, GB had equalled their medals total from London.  65 medals won.  65 incredible moments.  65 unforgettable memories.

The men’s 1500m was like watching bleary eyed commuters jostling to get on the tube at rush hour.  I wonder if the American winner, Matt Centrowitz, has ever worked in the city.  He’d never be late for work.  In the men’s 5,000m, the scrum was even worse!  It was like bleary eyed commuters spotting an elusive solitary seat on the train and charging headlong towards it, elbows flaying, and diving to sit down first.  Someone should have reminded them that it wasn’t rush hour in London, but the Olympic 5,000m in Rio, and then perhaps the silver and bronze medallists might not have been disqualified (even if the silver medallist, Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo was later reinstated).

What to say about the contentious, controversial women’s 800m?  I don’t think I have used those words in this blog yet, so guess it is about time I mentioned them.  How do you solve a problem like Semenya?  You don’t.  It was impossible to watch this race without feeling uncomfortable.  It simply wasn’t a fair fight.  It’s not Caster Semenya’s fault; it’s not anyone fault.  But it’s not fair.  How could any woman have a chance against someone who, to be blunt, might be competitive in a men’s race?

It’s well known to insiders that there are other intersex athletes competing here (see Guardian article).  It may or may not be known (but there will be educated guesses) that there are secret drugs cheats competing here.  We can’t see it, so we don’t know about it, and we take the races at face value.  But with Semenya, it’s right in front of us.  We can see it; we can see it’s not a fair fight.  It’s an issue of credibility – the same issue with drugs.  It’s ultimately to do with gaining an unfair advantage.  How can an intersex athlete not have an unfair advantage over a female when biologically they are not the same?

The argument has been made that many athletes have a genetic advantage over others, which is what makes them so dominant over their rivals.  Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  But they are not separated along genetic lines.  Sport is gender binary.  Male and female.  When Bolt or Phelps compete, they are competing against other men.  The reason we need to have a separate competition for women is because of the inherent biological disadvantage that women have compared to men.  If you are going to allow athletes who possess some of the same advantages that men do, to compete in women’s races, then what is the point of having separate races for women in the first place?

Some people believe that gender is a spectrum, not a binary.  They may well be right.  But sport classifies along binary lines.  So what to do with athletes who don’t unequivocally fit into either gender category, but identify themselves as female?  What is the fairest solution?  I’ll be damned if I know.  All I do know is that the 2016 Olympic women’s 800m final has no credibility, in the same way the 1988 Olympic men’s 100m final has no credibility.

The women’s high jump was won at a height of 1.97m by 37 year old Spaniard Ruth Beitia.  That was 0.1 less than the heptathletes jumped in their high jump event.  Both, winner Nafi Thiam, and GB’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, cleared 1.98m.  Maybe they should think about doubling up at the world championships in London next year.

Make that 66 medals!  We have officially surpassed London.  The women’s 4 x 400m made up for the bitter disappointment of the men’s 4 x 400m team’s disqualification yesterday, to win a fantastic bronze medal behind the two sprinting behemoths USA and Jamaica.  Last leg runner Christine Ohuruogu did a great job of holding off three other teams at the final bend before sprinting away in the straight to finish third.  Top speech from Christine as well, thanking the GB support staff and everyone who plays the lottery, and encouraging those who don’t to do so and think of it as an investment.  I have always been reluctant to play the lottery.  I am so convinced I will never win that I think of it as money down the drain, but if the money helps fund more British Olympic medals, I am on my way to the newsagents tomorrow.

ps. How fitting that the final anthem in the Olympic stadium should be God Save the Queen.  Pound for pound, we have owned these Olympics.

The Olympics: Day 3

Gymnastics:  Gutted.  Gutted.  Gutted.  They say 4th is the worst place to finish at the Olympics, and it’s true.  After two back to back bronzes for Team GB earlier on, it seemed certain that the gymnastics boys would add to the tally, but it would require a couple of monster scores on the final apparatus, the Pommel Horse, from Max Whitlock and Louis Smith.  Louis, who had waited all evening for his turn on his specialist apparatus, rightly went for it, with a crazily difficult routine, but came a cropper early on, losing his legs with his weight too far behind him, forcing him off.  And that was that.  Even with a perfect routine, it probably would not have been enough to nick it from China, but it was a heartbreakingly anti-climactic end to what should have been GB’s piece de resistance.  As a consolation, Max Whitlock nailed it with a 15.991 score (I thought it deserved a 16.000), and the individual competition is his to lose, though Louis will undoubtedly be doubly motivated now to take that gold away from him.

Diving:  While it would be agony for our gymnasts at the death, a little earlier, it was ecstasy for our synchro divers, Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow, in the 10m Platform.  In a nail biting finale (is there any other kind when GB are going for a medal?), the British pair had to get 84 points with their final dive to snatch bronze from the Germans.  Their dive was good – but was it good enough?  A long, tense wait for the scores…then Tom Daley’s face broke into a beaming smile to tell us all that yes, it was good enough!  By a whole six points.  GB had beaten the Germans to the bronze at the death – it’s always good to beat the Germans at anything really.

Trap Shooting:  The theme du jour for Team GB was definitely The Agony and the Ecstasy of winning and just missing out on bronze.  It had started with ecstasy for Ed Ling, who is apparently a farmer and, erm, can’t wait to get back to his farm.  The delights of lounging on sunny beaches in Brazil are obviously lost on some people.

Women’s Rugby Sevens:  It was agony for our Sevens, who were battered by Canada in the bronze medal play off 33-10, having lost earlier to eventual silver medallists NZ.  Losing is obviously contagious.

Swimming:  So is coming fourth!  Not again!  Yep, again.  This time it was James Guy in the agonising so near yet so far fourth place in the 200m Freestyle.  Enough already.  That made 3 fourth places in one day.  Too many fourths.

At times the swimming pool resembled a meeting place for Narcotics Anonymous, with a couple of former drug cheats in attendance and winning medals.  China’s Sun Yang went one better in the 200m Freestyle, winning gold to add to his silver in the 400m Freestyle.  Sun Yang’s presence has been causing quite a bit of cyber rage, with the 400m Freestyle winner, Aussie Mack Horton, publicly branding him a cheat, which apparently sent China’s equivalent of Twitter into collective apoplexy.

But the gold medal for pantomime villain of the day went to fellow pharmaceutical enthusiast, Russian Yulia Efimova, who was fervently booed by the fans when she entered the arena and had already been given dirty looks, cold shoulders and wagging fingers from her fellow competitors.  Facing the unpalatable prospect of two former drug cheats winning golds in one evening, everyone was very grateful to American Lilly King, who appeared determined not to relinquish first place in the 100m Breaststroke to Efimova no matter what.  Moral indignation can be a great motivator.

Judo:  If there was no romance in the swimming pool tonight, there was plenty of the mushy stuff at the judo.  There was ecstasy for Brazil as the hosts won their first Olympic Gold of the Games to get their party started.  In a story straight out of Hollywood, a misfit who grew up in abject poverty in a notorious favela, Cidade de Deus (City of God), became a national herione.  Rafaela Silva thrilled the nation with a win in the 57kg.  As a young child her parents enrolled her in free judo classes to keep her away from gang life.  A life changing decision.  Wonder when the Hollywood biopic comes out?